beauty

When plucking your eyebrows becomes obsessive.

Image via iStock.

It started off innocently enough. Whenever I was deep in thought, my hands would absentmindedly reach up to my eyebrows and start picking at them.

Pick, pick – a simple, repetitive motion that felt instantly satisfying.

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I thought nothing of it. Then it started happening more often – and totally subconsciously. Whenever I was feeling nervous or even just bored, my hands would find their way up to my eyebrows and just pick.

Being 12-years-old, I didn’t pay much attention to my eyebrows (save for one bad attempt at shaving the middle – another story) so I didn’t really notice what was happening. Sure, they looked a little more sparse than normal, but no big deal, right?

Wrong.

I must have been feeling very nervous or bored this particular day, because as soon as I walked through the door, Mum looked up and said "What ON EARTH have you done!?"

I ran to the mirror, and for the first time saw the full effect of my (not so) handiwork.

It went a little something like this.

Except it wasn't even symmetrical - just one side. My poor, poor right eyebrow. Luckily, after seeing the horrific results (and spending the next few months with a strategically placed side fringe) I quickly learnt to shake the habit.

My eyebrows took a while to recover, looking sparse for a few years.

(Although, between you and I, I've found myself doing it twice while writing this article... nooo!)

For others, it can be much, much more serious.

Mackensie's Story

Mackensie Freeman was in just fifth grade when she started yanking out her eyebrow hairs with her fingers.

"I was so obsessed with the feeling that the lesser hair, the better," the now 16-year-old told Cosmopolitan. "So I just kept pulling and pulling."

When it went past the point of point of cosmetic improvement, her parents became concerned.

Mackensie's plucking went beyond cosmetic improvement. Image via iStock.

Googling the symptoms, they stumbled upon a condition no-one had heard of before - trichotillomania, also known as 'trich'.

A psychological condition that drives sufferers to pull out their own hair from their scalp, face, chest and legs leaving noticeable bald patches. In severe cases, the urge can be so intense that it impairs concentration, disrupts normal functioning and triggers a vicious of pleasure and shame.

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It occurs in about two to four per cent of the population, and most sufferers are women.

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Despite seeing a specialist therapist, Mackensie's condition just got worse, and she started pulling out her head hair.

The urge became so bad she stopped caring about whether people saw her pull in public, and after developing a bald patch, her dad shaved her head.

She got teased at school with students calling her "a boy", there was a rumour that her headteacher even thought she should be institutionalised.

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"I felt guilty, helpless and vulnerable - yet I still couldn't stop pulling," she said.

Getting a wig helped - but not for long. Soon all the hair was pulled from that too.

Thankfully, Mackensie is now slowly improving, having tried a variety of treatments and techniques to get to the bottom of the problem. She attends the annual Trich conference and finds comfort in the community, knowing she is not alone.

Why do people do it?

"We don't know why it occurs, but the one thing we do know is that it is partly genetic," Executive Director of the Trichotillomania Learning Centre in the US, Jennifer Raikes said.

However a new study suggests that compulsive behaviours could actually be a sign you're a perfectionist.

Biting your nails could be a sign you're a perfectionist. Image via iStock.

"Body-focused repetitive behaviours" or BFRBs like biting your nails, pulling your hair and picking your skin are more likely to occur when you're feeling bored, frustrated or dissatisfied at not reaching your goals.

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"The findings suggest that individuals suffering from body-focused repetitive behavious could benefit from treatments designed to reduce frustration and boredom and to modify perfectionist beliefs," stated first author of the study Sarah Roberts.

While it's nice to know that my habit might mean I'm a perfectionist, it's clear that it makes one thing far from perfect - my poor eyebrows.

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